Bodies of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi lie on the floor of the El-Iman mosque in Cairo's Nasr City, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)
UPDATE 10:40 am: President Obama spoke today of the “complexity of the situation” in Egypt. It is, indeed, complex. That’s why, as I wrote in the original post, the administration has been so irresolute in responding the Arab Spring’s events in Egypt since 2011. Today, Obama said he opposes the institution of martial law in Egypt and “strongly” condemned the violent crackdown. And, as expected, he announced the cancellation of a joint exercise with Egypt’s military, which is not exactly a big loss to the generals. The violence, Obama said, “needs to stop” and that the “state of emergency needs to be lifted.” The “cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop,” said Obama. More important, and exactly accurate, is his comment that the United States “cannot determine the future of Egypt.” He complained that both sides blame Washington for supporting the other side, which is the legacy of the fact that the United States actually has little or no influence over both sides.
There’ll be more to come from Washington, but not much that matters.
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ORIGINAL POST: The Egyptian police state is dead! Long live the Egyptian police state!
Things have come nearly full circle in Egypt since 2011, when —in response to a popular uprising—Egypt’s military toppled President Hosni Mubarak and installed a ruling military council. Two years later, after the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president, the military stepped in once again in response to a popular revolt, an uprising that was likely orchestrated by the military from behind the scenes. That allowed Egypt’s armed forces to step intervene directly, with the clear intention of eliminating the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt’s political scene.
The result so far: three massacres, including yesterday’s slaughter in Cairo, where more than 300 died, and in other cities, where another 200 perished. There is, obviously, more to come. The Brothers, whose cult loves martyrs and martyrdom, is promising to take to the streets.
Since the start of Egypt’s Arab Spring—an ironic term now—in 2011, the Obama administration has seemed paralyzed, and for good reason. Most of what’s happened in Egypt since then has unspooled outside of American control and influence, and the White House has tacked this way and that for two years, managing only to convince both the Muslim Brotherhood and the army that it supported the other side. Since the fall of Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president, in early July the administration’s dithering has seemed particularly acute, but it stems from the fact that American influence in the region has fallen dramatically since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. No statement more underlines the poignancy of that reality than the comment yesterday from the White House spokesman, the aptly named Josh Earnest, of whom it can be said that it’s hard to tell if he’s joshing or being earnest: